Italy v Ireland: Wounded visitors to take their frustrations out on whipping boys
Ireland's Six Nations campaign got off to a poor start but, as Matthew Crist explains, Joe Schmidt's men should get a confidence boost when they travel to Rome on Sunday...
"In reality this looks very much like an encounter which will see the hosts look to stifle their opponents and it might just be a case of how long before a frustrated Ireland side lash out with a vulnerable Azzuri side the perfect prey for this wounded beast."
Italy v Ireland
Live on ITV1
Ireland in need of a boost
After being stunned by England on the opening weekend of the tournament Ireland return to action following the first Six Nations break confident of building some momentum in Rome on Sunday with anything other than a convincing victory for the current champions surely out of the question.
Following the disappointment in Dublin, Ireland still looked far from their best when they travelled to Murrayfield to take on a confident Scotland outfit, and had to weather an early storm before finally imposing themselves on the game thanks to tries from Conor Murray, Jacob Stockdale and Keith Earls.
But the 22-13 victory over Scotland did little to convince anyone that this Ireland outfit - who came into the tournament as many people's favourites and available at [7.0] on the Exchange to win the World Cup in Japan - were the real deal, but when you're in need of a boost there are few opponents you'd rather face than Italy.
Injury worries for Italy
Johnny Sexton lasted just 24 minutes of the game against Scotland in Edinburgh before being carried off with a nasty looking head injury but if reports are to be believed Ireland's talisman will return to the side for the trip to Rome.
Keith Earls recovered from a hip problem in time to feature against Scotland, while Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, Andrew Conway and Kieran Marmion look likely to return to a team whose second-row could be depleted with Devin Toner, Iain Henderson and Tadhg Beirne all recently sidelined, though Chris Farrell has been passed fit after a knee-injury scare.
For the home side things look more bleak and despite Loosehead prop Andrea Lovotti looking like he will return after suffering from a bout of flu, Marcello Violi misses-out along with Gloucester flanker Jake Polledri, full-back Matteo Minozzi and influential skipper Sergio Parisse - who has been ruled out with concussion.
Defence versus attack
For all their critics Italy actually put on a decent display against title challengers Wales last time out and will no doubt want a repeat of their 22-15 success against Ireland back in 2013 when the two sides meet at the Stadio Olimpico.
The hosts will be looking to produce another defensive masterclass on home soil and replicate the team effort that saw Wales go try-less in the first 40 minutes in Rome but the problem for Italy is that Ireland still feel like they have something of a point to prove.
Ireland have enjoyed plenty of ball during their 2019 campaign to date, boasting 57% of possession in their two games while Joe Schmidt's side have bagged five tries in those two encounters, but one chink of light for the Azzuri might be the fact that Ireland have also conceded five.
Even so, in reality this looks very much like an encounter which will see the hosts attempt to stifle their opponents and it might just be a case of how long before a frustrated Ireland side lash out with a vulnerable Azzuri side the perfect prey for this wounded beast.
So backing Ireland at [2.06] on the Exchange to overturn a handicap of -29.5 points might just make what is sure to be an exercise in defence versus attacking slightly more entertaining while the smart bet might be for Ireland to win by 16-20 points at 17/2 on the Sportsbook.